This week in Christian history: Pope born, ‘shall the fundamentalists win?’

'Shall the fundamentalists win?' sermon preached – May 21, 1922

Harry Emerson Fosdick
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), a noted theological liberal Protestant minister and critic of fundamentalist Christianity. |

This week marks the anniversary of when prominent liberal Protestant minister Harry Emerson Fosdick preached his famous sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists win?” at a church in New York.

Preached at a time when fundamentalist Christianity was gaining national attention, Fosdick argued that the theological movement was too intolerant, stating that if “they had their way, within the church, they would set up in Protestantism a doctrinal tribunal more rigid than the Pope’s.”

“In such an hour, delicate and dangerous, when feelings are bound to run high, I plead this morning the cause of magnanimity and liberality and tolerance of spirit,” Fosdick declared.

Fosdick claimed that Christians could disagree on matters like whether the Virgin Birth was “a historical fact,” how the Second Coming could occur, and if the Bible was divinely inspired.

Tim Challies, an author and blogger, labeled Fosdick a “false teacher” in a 2014 work, stating that “Fosdick questioned the essential beliefs necessary to be a Christian and began to challenge long-held, orthodox Christian beliefs.”

“He also denied the wrath of God, suggesting that wrath was simply a metaphor for the natural consequences of doing wrong,” wrote Challies.

“With wrath removed, it was inevitable that the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ would also be denied. Before long Fosdick’s Christianity looked nothing like historic Christianity.”

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